Envision a s’mores sundae adorned with torched fluff, a gochujang-glazed chicken sandwich topped with avocado-herb green sauce on a homemade sesame bun, or a banh mi pizza with pickled carrots and daikon — all vegan.
After launching in 2017, Vegan 72 returns Jan. 25-30 with a double dose of plant-powered fun. Typically a 72-hour or weekend-long affair, this year’s event promises 144 hours, six days dedicated to highlighting vegan bites and beverages at eateries across the region. During the vegan restaurant week of sorts, diners can stop by any of the 34 participating restaurants during normal business hours for specially curated plant-based menu items.
Vegan 72 is hosted by the Richmond Veg Fest and Vegan Action, the latter a nonprofit organization that works to reduce environmental impact and promote healthy eating. Vegan Action Executive Director Krissi Vandenberg says the extended event came by popular demand.
“A lot of people were saying, ‘Hey, we don’t have enough time to try everything, we want more time,” shares the almost 25-year vegan.
New additions to the plant-powered celebration include a mix of bakeries and cafes, pizza shops, and even a brewery or two: Yummvee’s, Buttermilk Bake Shop, Garnett’s, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Elephant Thai, Fresca on Addison, Nile, Pizza Bones, Philly Vegan, Roastology and TBT El Gallo.
Vandenberg says that in planning the event, they ask past participants to return, seek out newly opened vegan establishments and scout options that may not necessarily come to mind when one is on the hunt for a plant-friendly meal.
“Our goal was to have restaurants and establishments that weren’t necessarily the go-tos, where folks are like, ‘Oh, I’ve never been there before,” she says.
On the flip side, Vandenberg adds that many of those venturing to the various eateries to nosh aren’t necessarily vegans, rather people looking to experience a different side of dining. She also notes that many of the restaurants end up adopting the dishes they offer during Vegan 72 as permanent menu additions.
“We really consider that a success,” Vandenberg says. “A lot of veg-curious folks are going out and trying these dishes. We don’t want this just to be for vegans, we want this to be for everybody.”
In recent years, vegan food businesses have become more commonplace in Richmond, from food trucks such as 1115 Mobile Kitchen to bakeries including Carytown’s Minglewood Bake Shop and local vegan cheesemaker UnMoo, whose cashew-based Notz can be found during Vegan 72 at Pizza Bones — on pies featuring Chinese five-spice red sauce, crispy radishes, and thinly sliced green onion and cilantro — and at The Hop, which will dish out “The Big Apple,” a hand-tossed pizza topped with garlic and oil, baby arugula, Granny Smith apples, walnuts, smoky plant-based ham, and agave-Champagne vinaigrette.
Vandenberg, a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate, says she was heavily involved with groups promoting veganism and animal welfare while attending college in the 1990s. During time in Berkley, California, years later, she began volunteering with Vegan Action and eventually relocated back to Richmond, becoming the organization’s executive director and continuing its efforts here.
When she started the Richmond office, Vandenberg was a one-woman show; today she has nine full-time staff members.
A participant every year since the event’s inception, 821 Cafe — a cozy VCU-area stalwart with a faithful following — will offer a vegan stout from Three Notch’d Brewing made specially for the event. Dubbed “VegOut Stout,” the beer will also be released Friday, Jan. 28, at the brewery’s Richmond outpost.
Offering rotating specials throughout the week, 821 chef and co-owner Chip Cooke, who is not currently vegetarian or vegan but has been in the past, plans to serve everything from street corn fritters to vegan Cuban and gyro sandwiches, loaded sweet potato tots with Peruvian-style tofu saltado, and chicken and waffles. He also hints that he “may sneak a few others in on the mix.”
“Our plan has always been to have a little something for everyone,” Cooke says of the dishes at 821 Cafe. “My co-owner, Andrew, and his family have been vegetarian for as long as I can remember, and so have a lot of our employees over the years, which has led to us having a veg-/vegan-friendly menu.”
Joining 821 Cafe as repeat participants are Bar Solita, Cobra Cabana, Hang Space, Harrison Street Cafe, Hot for Pizza, Ipanema, Idle Hands Bread Company, India K’Raja, Lamplighter Coffee Roasters, Max’s on Broad, Nomad Deli & Catering Co., Soul N’ Vinegar, Sticky Rice, Sugar & Twine, and WPA Bakery.
Over the course of Vegan 72, diners are encouraged to vote for their favorite dishes, with winners announced after the event.
“People get serious about the voting,” Vandenberg says. “It’s a lot more competitive now that there are 34 places. And it’s been really, really cool and rewarding to see this grow so much.”
V72 passports will be available for participants online. If a diner visits five or more participating restaurants, they will receive a complimentary vegan treat from Sugar & Twine bakery. Surrounding Counties will host a one-night-only plant-based hot dog pop-up on Jan. 27.